Portland, Oregon, is reeling after a newborn baby birthed by a homeless woman died the morning after a punishing ice storm tore through the city.
On the morning of January 9, Portland police officers responded to a 911 call about a homeless woman walking barefoot on the pavement, who had shown a newborn baby to a man walking to work. That morning, it was in the low thirties, and an ice storm had just pummeled the Portland area the day before.
According to the Willamette Week, officers texted one another about the homeless baby, learning that it had been born just hours before the 911 call in a homeless encampment. The baby appeared to have been delivered without any complications, though the freezing conditions obviously made time a factor in getting the baby an ambulance to the Oregon Health and Science University hospital. At least three and possibly four people who had direct contact with the newborn said the baby was alive, breathing, and had the possibility of surviving.
“Baby is conscious and breathing okay, but has been outside this entire time,” one first responder’s text read. “Baby is ice cold.”
The baby, who only lived for less than 24 hours and never had a name, was born to a 34-year-old woman who was described as “very mentally ill” by an officer who interviewed her. The woman allegedly struggled to answer any questions as to where she was from or where the baby was born, other than “by the miracle of immaculate conception.”
Two pediatric emergency room doctors who attempted an unsuccessful 25-minute effort to revive the baby both told the Oregon state medical examiner that the newborn was “viable,” and had been born after 32 weeks, making it roughly one month premature (the earliest surviving premature baby was born at just 21 weeks and five days). The pediatric physicians — Dr. Sarah Blackmon and Dr. David Sheridan — both told Portland police child abuse detective Robert Harley that the baby wasn’t stillborn, though Oregon state medical examiner Dr. Karin Gunson, who performed the autopsy, came to that conclusion in her official report.
Under state law, officers are required to investigate a baby’s death, if the cause of death was exposure. However, if a baby is stillborn, no investigation is to be conducted. The baby’s death wasn’t publicly reported at the time, because according to Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson, they were still waiting on the cause of death to be determined. Harley wrote in his report that the baby was stillborn.
Horrible as it may be, Portland has also seen the deaths of four other homeless people by hypothermia so far this year, for an average of at least one homeless person freezing to death in Portland every four days, as of this writing. That’s more hypothermia-related deaths in a span of less than three weeks than Portland has seen over the last five years, combined.
The first homeless person to freeze to death in Portland was 68-year-old David Guyot, who was found at a bus stop shortly before being pronounced dead on New Years’ Day. 51-year-old Mark Elliott Johnson was found dead on a sidewalk a day later. 29-year-old Zachary A. Young, who was mentally ill, died in the woods on January 10. One of the most widely covered hypothermia-related deaths was Karen Lee Batts, a 52-year-old woman who died of exposure shortly after being evicted from her apartment for owing just $338 in late rent.
Portland is in the midst of a punishing shortage of affordable housing. The Portland Housing Bureau reported that rents had risen across the city by an average of 34 percent between 2010 and 2015.